Ghostwritten Blogs? What's The Fuss?

Blawgosphere purists are in an uproar about the practice of some lawyers who use ghostwriters to write material for their blogs. I don't see what the big deal is. Does anyone really protest when a newspaper prints unsigned editorials? It's the masthead that matters.

I confess to a wayward youth. I ended up at Columbia in graduate school with a cushy fellowship but no idea whatsoever of a career path. So I taught for a few years, until I realized that I did not like teaching. My first job after ten years of college and graduate school was editorial writing. I wrote for two Connecticut dailies for a period of five years.

It was a great job in some respects. I'd waltz into the office about nine or so and read a bunch of newspapers. There'd be a mid-morning editorial board meeting, lunch and then an afternoon to research and write an opinion for the editorial board. But it used to grate on me to write anonymously. I envied the columnists who wrote under their own names. I'd rather be George Will or Charles Krauthammer than, as I was, The Hartford Courant or the Waterbury American.

A decade ago, I finally got a chance to become a columnist. Granted, my readership is small, and I am not syndicated coast to coast. I appear weekly in s small legal newspaper, The Connecticut Law Tribune. But I have regular readers, and I enjoy it.

But what is it that I enjoy about it? In part, it is the act of writing. There is intrinsic satisfaction in organizing impressions and trying to find just the right way to put something. But I am no stylist. I'm a first-draft kind of guy. My opinions aren't literature. When I was an editorial writer, I always squabbled with the editors.

But I also enjoy the influence that comes from having a column.

A few summers ago, I decided to quit writing. I wrote a farewell column, and was set to move on. I was stunned by the number of folks who called or wrote to express disappointment; even judges, whom I routinely prod, expressed regret. One asked me to reconsider and to continue writing. So I resumed the column.

Such influence as I possess is a mystery to me. I think it is in part a function of longevity. Writing weekly for a decade creates an expectation that I will be around for a while. But, tell me, truly, would anyone really notice if I hired a ghostwriter to mail my opinions in for me? Wouldn't my influence by the same?

I am aware of a Connecticut lawyer who does just that. A professional journalist writes pieces for him, and then sets about seeking to place them in publications. The journalist even arranges television appearances for the lawyer. Sure, at some level this offends the purist in me, but what, really, is the problem? Isn't the lawyer doing what newspaper editorial pages do all the time? He wants influence, so he hires a writer, slaps his name and mug on the column, and appears to be a wise and well-written soul.

Blogs provide instant gratification for the scribbling class. It yields influence of a sort, too. We can all become columnists sans editors. Blogging is a great way to express yourself, to strut your stuff, to cast what shadow you can. If some lawyers want to hire ghostwriters to help them splash in this puddle of quick and easy thrills, let them. There is nothing deceptive about endorsing the work product of another and making it your own: I have associates write briefs for me all the time, but once my name goes on the brief, I signify that I had adopted their work as my own.

So ghost on, I say. Let the purists fuss and fret. It doesn't really matter in this the most transient of all written worlds. We're all here for reasons all our own. That others read at all is the thrill.

Comments: (1)

  • I think there's inherently an element of deception...
    I think there's inherently an element of deception in passing anything off. If you hire a ghostwriter and pass off their words as your own I think you really just need to see that as a misleading impression. Endorsing an associate written document seems to me a statement that you stand behind it rather than you actually wrote it, there being a common practice of not writing every word of your briefs.
    It's a stretch to call it fraud or anything else and I don't think all that much really need be done to combat the menace but I think it's not perfectly on the level either.
    Blogging is fundamentally still perceived as a mainly casual thing which people tend to write themselves. Its use as a marketing tool probably gets its power from people expecting the words to be the actual lawyer that they can instruct to fight their corner and not his marketing people.
    Posted on February 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm by Stephen

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